Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity

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Overview

Drawing on New Testament studies and recent scholarship on the expansion of the Christian church, Gary B. Ferngren presents a comprehensive historical account of medicine and medical philanthropy in the first five centuries of the Christian era.

Ferngren first describes how early Christians understood disease. He examines the relationship of early Christian medicine to the natural and supernatural modes of healing found in the Bible. Despite biblical accounts of demonic possession and miraculous healing, Ferngren argues that early Christians generally accepted naturalistic assumptions about disease and cared for the sick with medical knowledge gleaned from the Greeks and Romans.

Ferngren next explores the origins of medical philanthropy in the early Christian church. Rather than viewing illness as punishment for sins, early Christians believed that the sick deserved both medical assistance and compassion. Even as they were being persecuted, Christians cared for the sick both within and outside of their community. Their long experience in medical charity led to the creation of the first hospitals, a singular Christian contribution to health care.

Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity is essential reading for scholars and students in the history of medicine and religious studies.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Philip W. Leon, PhD (The Citadel)
Description: This worthy book discusses the state and art of medicine during the time of Christ and for the first five centuries of Christianity. Although not a Biblical exegesis, the book examines popular notions of Christ as healer.
Purpose: The first purpose of the book is to examine the kind of healing early Christians employed, whether miraculous or natural. The second purpose is to discuss the origins of Christian medical philanthropy, a concept of medical charity essential to Christianity that led to the establishment of hospitals.
Audience: This is not a book for the casual reader. It is a serious inquiry into a period of medical history, not a guide for a Sunday school teacher. Students of the classical Greco-Roman world will profit from seeing the connection of the practice of medicine in those times with early Christian times. The audience is expected to be well educated and able to absorb complex ideas. The author has published extensively on the subject of medicine and Christianity.
Features: The New Testament contains dozens of examples of healing. Only a few instances of miraculous healing occur, while others involve natural healing, whether by Christ or by his disciples. In order for early Christianity to survive, adherents to the new religion depended upon a sense of community. Drawn together by their spiritual beliefs, they also began to care for each other's physical or medical needs, and rendering medical care to the sick became a central tenet of Christian charity.
Assessment: The author's research assembles hundreds of sources to support his theses. Medical historians and historians interested in the classical age will welcome this well written book to their libraries. Medical practitioners in every field with a strong interest in medical history will profit from reading it as well. Certainly, libraries at every medical university and graduate school will want this book.
Practical Matters - Vernon K. Robbins

A highly important investigation in medicine and healing in early Christianity. A book that every scholar of healing in early Christianity should read.

Brethren Life and Thought - James Benedict

Ferngren's approach and evidence are persuasive and a wonderful introduction to an element of early Christianity frequently overlooked, misunderstood, or both.

Catholic Historical Review - Peregrine Horden

A good book.

Medical History - Ildiko Csepregi

[An] excellent and thought-provoking work.

Linacre Quarterly - Patricia Fosarelli

Ferngren writes in an engaging manner that will be especially attractive to physicians who do not have a background in theology or Church history. This book would be of great interest to any Christian physician or health-care professional who is interested in learning more about medicine at the time of Christ and its impact on Christianity and, perhaps more importantly, Christianity's impact on the care of the ill.

Missiology: An International Review

Readable and widely researched... an important book for mission studies and American Catholic movements, the book posits the question of what can take its place in today's challenging religious culture.

Religion - Halina Grzymala-Moszcynska and Adam Anczyk

Reading this book gives one the impression of discovering something new. One can see how some medical and social ideas were born, and how mutual relations between religion and medicine were developing.

Journal of Religion and Health - Peter H. Van Ness

This is an important book, for students of Christian theology who understand health and healing to be topics of theological interest, and for health care practitioners who seek a historical perspective on the development of the ethos of their vocation.

Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith - James J. Rusthoven

In this superb work of historical and conceptual scholarship, Ferngren unfolds for the reader a cultural milieu of healing practices during the early centuries of Christianity... His arguments are always compelling and usually convincing. He shows how Christians lived out their faith as a positive healing and caring witness, boldly living out their Christianity as a persuasive alternative to the failed pagan responses to fellow human beings in need.

Isis - Karl-Heinz Leven

Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity, written with deep affection for the subject, is a rich study, important for any scholar interested in the emergence and development of medicine in the Christian society of late antiquity.

Religion
The effort put into research and documentation... is remarkable.

— Halina Grzymala-Moszcynska

Catholic Insight
Well written and well researched.

— Dr. John Shea MD

JAMA

A succinct, thoughtful, well-written, and carefully argued assessment of Christian involvement with medical matters in the first five centuries of the common era... It is to Ferngren's credit that he has opened questions and explored them so astutely. This fine work looks forward as well as backward; it invites fuller reflection of the many senses in which medicine and religion intersect and merits wide readership.

Christian Century
The story that [Ferngren] tells is provocative for Christian readers who live in a culture of fear and who tremble at the thought of new pandemics.

— Alan Kreider

Journal of Theological Studies
We must be grateful for this closely argued book and the light it sheds on early Christian health care.

— Andrew Dauton-Fear

Practical Matters
A highly important investigation in medicine and healing in early Christianity. A book that every scholar of healing in early Christianity should read.

— Vernon K. Robbins

Brethren Life and Thought
Ferngren's approach and evidence are persuasive and a wonderful introduction to an element of early Christianity frequently overlooked, misunderstood, or both.

— James Benedict

Catholic Historical Review
A good book.

— Peregrine Horden

Medical History
[An] excellent and thought-provoking work.

— Ildiko Csepregi

Linacre Quarterly
Ferngren writes in an engaging manner that will be especially attractive to physicians who do not have a background in theology or Church history. This book would be of great interest to any Christian physician or health-care professional who is interested in learning more about medicine at the time of Christ and its impact on Christianity and, perhaps more importantly, Christianity's impact on the care of the ill.

— Patricia Fosarelli

Catholic Insight - Dr. John Shea MD

Well written and well researched.

Christian Century - Alan Kreider

The story that [Ferngren] tells is provocative for Christian readers who live in a culture of fear and who tremble at the thought of new pandemics.

Journal of Theological Studies - Andrew Dauton-Fear

We must be grateful for this closely argued book and the light it sheds on early Christian health care.

Religion - Halina Grzymala-Moszcynska
The effort put into research and documentation... is remarkable.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801891427
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 480,347
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary B. Ferngren is a professor of history at Oregon State University and editor of Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, also published by Johns Hopkins.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

1 Methods and approaches 1

2 The Christian reception of Greek medicine 13

3 Early Christian views of the etiology of disease 42

4 Christianity as a religion of healing 64

5 The basis of Christian medical philanthropy 86

6 Health care in the early church 113

7 Some concluding observations 140

Abbreviations 153

Notes 155

Bibliography 209

Index 239

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